DAVOS/DAMASCUS: Arab officials including Jordan’s King Abdullah II called on global leaders Friday to take urgent action over Syria’s civil war and provide “desperately needed” help to refugees.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, a senior member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family also called for Syria’s opposition to be provided with sophisticated weaponry to help “level the playing field” in the conflict.
With the UNHCR announcing that more than 6,400 Syrian refugees had flooded across the border into Jordan in the previous 24 hours, King Abdullah said the international community needed to provide more support.
“I urge once more a stepped-up world response to the Syrian crisis,” said the king, whose country is already hosting more than 300,000 Syrians.
“The weakest refugees are struggling now just to survive this year’s harsh winter. More international support is desperately needed,” he told the annual gathering of the global elite in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.
He also urged international powers to come together to resolve the Syrian conflict through “a real and inclusive transition plan.”
“Anything else invites fragmentation, extremist power grabs and more conflict and instability, with a disastrous impact on the region and the world,” the monarch said.
The past 24 hours have been dramatic for Jordan’s main refugee camp, UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in Geneva as she revealed a record number of arrivals.
“Only yesterday [Thursday], 4,400 Syrian refugees arrived in Zaatari camp, and a further 2,000 arrived during the course of the night,” she said.
“Staff in Zaatari are working day and night shifts to respond to the new arrivals and the growing needs of the refugees in the camp,” she said.
She said that most new arrivals were women, children and elderly and that three children died this week – a 2-year-old and a 2-month-old who died shortly after arriving at the camp and a 2-day-old baby after an emergency delivery.
Fleming said the new arrivals bring the total population of the sprawling camp that opened last July to some 65,000 and that the UNHCR was working with Jordan to open a second camp by the end of the month.
The United Nations has predicted that the number of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries would double to 1.1 million by June if Syria’s war, which has killed more than 60,000 people since March 2011, does not end.
Experts and diplomats at Davos also urged more action, warning that the conflict was threatening to settle into a long and bloody war.
“Today there are more than 60,000 dead ... Can we wait until it’s double that? Can we wait until it’s triple that? This is a shame on all of us,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former Saudi intelligence chief and ex-envoy to the United States and Britain.
He said the global community needed to support Syria’s opposition against President Bashar Assad, including by supplying them with weapons: “I assume we are sending weapons, and if we are not sending weapons then it would be a terrible mistake on our part. In Syria you have to level the playing field.”
Ghassan Salame, dean of the Paris School of International Affairs and a former Lebanese culture minister, drew a comparison with Lebanon’s own troubled history, saying few expected its 15-year civil war to last for so long.
“We have something like a military stalemate on the ground and this can continue for a long time,” he said. “Don’t underestimate the possibility of a protracted war that takes us into years and years.”
Calls were issued for more humanitarian assistance both inside Syria and in neighboring countries, where more than 650,000 refugees have fled.
International Committee of the Red Cross chief Peter Maurer said aid groups were finding it difficult to deliver assistance inside Syria and that there needed to be “respect for international humanitarian laws and principles.”
“We are definitely very much concerned by what we witness on the ground, by the expansion of the violence ... by the depth of the crisis, and of course the difficulty to reach people in need,” he said.
In his speech, King Abdullah vowed to pursue Jordan’s democratic reforms after Wednesday’s parliamentary vote and to reach out to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood that boycotted the election.